Living in Cyprus - February 2001

February, like January, can be COLD in Cyprus. This often surprises friends in the UK, who think of Mediterranean beaches, heat and humidity.  And, indeed, the heat in summer can be far more of a problem than the cold in winter.  However the houses tend to be built to help people cope with the heat, rather than the cold.  In our house, for instance, the ceilings are four metres from the floors (that's about thirteen feet, for anyone in the USA).  In most places, the floors are made of marble. Marble in Cyprus is not the luxury flooring of the west, but a natural, common sense (and reasonably inexpensive) way of ensuring maximum coolness.

But marble floors, and windows that don't fit very well, and lack of central heating, mean that when the temperature outside is 5 degrees Celsius (about 40F) overnight, it feels REALLY cold in the mornings.  We have a kerosene-fired heater which is surprisingly effective at taking the chill off the house, so long as we run it continually.  But as the sun usually comes out by around 9.00 in the mornings, and we can open the shutters to let in as much warmth as possible, it seems silly to use kerosene all day.  So we usually turn it on mid-afternoon and leave it on overnight.  

We can also run our air-conditioning unit switched to 'heat' if it's particularly cold, but electricity is quite expensive in Cyprus, and it only warms our living/dining room anyway. Many people use old-fashioned gas heaters, but the bottles of gas are heavy, and even after servicing gas heaters seem to smell bad.  All kinds of little electric heaters can be bought: we had a couple of bar-fires, but they didn't last very long.  We had an oil-filled electric heater as well, but after it had burned out two power sockets we decided it probably wasn't a good idea to use it.

The first week was a bit warmer, and quite sunny, until we had a thunderstorm, and then some torrential rain. Most of the previous leaks in our roof do now seem to be fixed, which is good! There was still one slight leak in one place, but nothing like as bad as it was before. With all the rain we've had this year, our back garden has become almost completely uncontrollable. 

Our garden on a grey day in February I've been trying to use the strimmer to keep most of it at least reasonably tidy, but even that is a losing battle. I've tried hand-weeding but it takes hours and hours and then the weeds spring up as fast as I can pull them. And the only weedkillers available here are horrible ones that are poisonous for cats, and kill just about every plant there is - including grass. But we're trying to cultivate what grass we have, and have put some more seed out this year, which has sprouted quite thickly.

The cats are all keeping lively and healthy. Tessa is very funny with toys - she was playing with a piece of Tim's lego, a cylindrical white wheel thing, and batting it all over the place, throwing it up in the air and chasing it. After about fifteen minutes she lost it under the piano. So Daniel got out a broom handle to try and get it out for her, and to his amazement found FOUR identical pieces! When we watched her we realised that she goes into Tim's room, selects this kind of piece, plays with it until she loses it under the piano (she can get it out from everywhere else), and then goes to find another one! She seems to be highly intelligent.

In the second week of February, we had a heat-wave.  Suddenly we didn't feel cold at night, and by mid-afternoon it was positively warm: about 18C (65F) and sunny.  We thought that perhaps we should do something about our back garden, which, after the general rain of January, had become covered with weeds.  Completely.  The good news was that some grass seed which I had flung out over some bare patches in October had come through, luscious and thick.  The bad news was that at least half the garden had weeds of at least 30cm high, some places up to a metre.  We got out the strimmer (US: weed-eater) and I tried to spend an hour each day cutting one section to reasonable height, to encourage the grass and discourage the weeds.  No more than an hour at a time, or my hands would shake for the rest of the evening.

We tried to find selective weedkiller: that wonderful compound which somehow manages to destroy broad-leaved plants, but feed grass.  Unfortunately it's not available here, or not that we can discover.  When we asked at our favourite gardening shop, they told us they only had weedkiller that kills everything green.  'And,' the saleswoman said cheerfully, 'it's very poisonous to cats too.'  Since we don't share the general Cypriot attitude to cats (having four of our own, and a number of feral cats who live in our garden) that certainly ensured we didn't buy any weedkiller!

The lighthouse at Kiti beach on a grey day in FebruaryThe weather experts told us, 'Of course, this warm spell won't last. It will get cold again before it gets really hot for the summer.' They were right.  Friends from the UK came out for a week, in the 'half-term' school break.  It rained every day.  Not continually - they did see a bit of sunshine - but enough to mean that we didn't spend much time at the beaches.  We did have a walk along Kiti beach, which was quite exhiliarating but not warm. 

On the day we went to see Kurium, the ancient amphitheatre beyond Limassol, there were gale-force winds.  Exhilarating, certainly.  But not what sun-starved Brits hope for when visiting this island.  We felt very sorry for people who had paid for package holidays in hotels, and had nothing to do on cold, rainy days.

The day after our friends left, the sun came out again.  It didn't rain all week.    So we decided that perhaps we'd better do something about our back garden: by this stage the patch that was still weed-covered had reached about a metre and a half in height.  We didn't want them to start flowering, after all.  So once again we got out the strimmer, and I persuaded my sons to help for half an hour or so each afternoon.  With three of us, we could get much more done each day, although when we looked at the garden as a whole, it seemed very little different even after a week.

We had asked our friends if they could bring some selective weedkiller from the UK.    It hadn't occurred to me that there would be any problem, but apparently weedkiller is one of those banned items on aeroplanes.  I had no idea.  But our friends checked with their airline, and were told that it definitely wouldn't be allowed.   So we have two choices, really: cut down the weeds along with the grass, or pull them up.   The larger ones have stems too thick for the strimmer anyway, and thankfully aren't deep-rooted.  We could leave them, but if we did they would become a haven for lizards and snakes in the summer months.  Feral cats would be flocking to eat them, but we prefer not to have snakes - so the weeds must go.

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